What if your state licensing board ethics conflicts with ACA NASW or AAMFT
First, in most cases state counseling laws prevail when there is a conflict with other ethics codes. In some states, some type of formal reference is made to following ACA Code of Ethics. Many counselors maintain LPC credentials in addition to our state licenses. For example, ACSW or NCC credentials. The first is administered by NASW and the latter by NBCC. Each counselor professional association has their own codes of ethics.
But what if these ethics conflict with your state licensing board?
Your State Laws
Let’s first address state law. For example, states have laws about sexual assault of patients by therapists.
Some states place these criminal activities in the same category as psychiatrists, probation officers and probationers and teachers/students, and so on.
In Georgia, it is a felony for a therapist to have intimate or sexual contact with a patient, but importantly consent cannot be used as a defense. This law is not in licensing law. It can be found in Georgia Code “Crimes and Offenses”.
So in Georgia, a client cannot consent to sex with a therapist. It matters not if the patient even states the contact is consensual.
In Pennsylvania sex with current clients is a felony, but a therapist may enter into a sexual relationship 7 years after the date of termination of service. This can be found in Board law ( the licensing board that regulates the practice of Professional Counseling, Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy.
Also, consent cannot be used as a defense.
Conflicts in the Law and Ethics
Georgia’s Composite board rules or law do not contain any language that states specific years post termination. In other words, the code of ethics is ‘silent’ as regards former clients.
Importantly, the NBCC Code of Ethics states counselors cannot engage in sexual relationships with clients for at least two years after termination of therapy.
So if you are a Pennsylvania licensee you could violate the law and still be in compliance with the NBCC code of ethics.
Same in Georgia.
NASW Code of Ethics provides for permitting sex with former clients provided it is not exploitive and the burden is on the therapist to prove the relationship is not exploitive nor harmful to the former client.
Importantly, since sexual assault by therapists is in Georgia criminal law and not in licensing law, the state can prosecute it as a crime. The board can investigate it as an ethics violation.
Hopefully, this aids in understanding why both state law and state licensing law and ethics should be your starting point. Professional association ethics, second.